The Skills Gap in India’s Ambitious Renewable Energy and Climate Goals

indian renewable energy

Last year, the United States helped lead nearly 200 nations to the bargaining table to come to an agreement on the changes needed to address climate change on a massive scale. It was an amazing show of solidarity for a global community that very rarely agrees on anything of consequence, much less a problem of this immediacy and magnitude.

Nevertheless, some of the less affluent nations involved are bracing themselves for the growing pains that will accompany this unprecedented – but non-binding – agreement. India in particular will need to make dramatic investments if it wants to make good on its promises.

India’s phantom workforce

India has set extremely ambitious targets for the rollout of renewable energies and climate-change benchmarks. The trouble is, it needs a great many more skilled workers to make these goals a reality.

The green-jobs boom in India has barely begun, and it will require a dramatic uptick in skilled technicians, engineers, maintenance workers, solar panel installers and data monitors. The estimates so far place the potential number of new hires at 1 million – a significant number, even in a country with a population of more than 1.2 billion. What we’re talking about here is nothing less than modernizing an entire country’s existing infrastructure. No small feat.

According to the the Natural Resources Defense Council, the breakdown of this new workforce is as follows:

  • 624,000 construction and commissioning positions (semiskilled)
  • 182,000 construction and commissioning positions (skilled)
  • 182,400 operations and maintenance (O&M) positions (semiskilled)
  • 81,000 O&M positions (skilled)
  • 28,600 design and preconstruction positions
  • 17,600 business development positions

In a country as diverse as India, it certainly works in its favor that a healthy mixture of skilled and semiskilled workers will be necessary as this plan comes to fruition.

What are India’s goals?

If such a significant number of new skilled workers is necessary, what, exactly, is India hoping to accomplish?

India has set its national target to deploy 100 gigawatts of solar energy by 2022. In addition to the 1 million new workers, it will need to allocate the equivalent of US$100 billion in government funds to make this transformation happen.

It’s important to note that the rollout of solar power and other forms of renewable energy has been slowed somewhat by the dramatic fall in oil prices across the globe. After Iran entered the global oil market, the price of crude oil in India fell from $106 per barrel in July 2014 to just $26 in January 2016 – a full 75 percent drop in just 15 months. Since heating oil is derived from crude oil, the cost of living has fallen for people of all socioeconomic backgrounds, all across the world. If we were looking for an incentive to ramp up our clean-energy efforts, the last thing we needed was an unprecedented drop in the cost of oil.

Nevertheless, India appears fully committed to meeting its lofty goals. The Make in India initiative, which got off the ground in 2014, exists to attract investments in India’s domestic manufacturing industry, enhance its existing manufacturing infrastructure, and bring about a general rise in skill capacity in the Indian labor force. The ultimate goal is turning India into a sought-after destination for foreign investment, encompassing 25 industries across the country.

How can India get it done?

The Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship in India is rolling out qualification standards for the country’s workforce. In addition, the Skill Council for Green Jobs has positioned itself to directly support the burgeoning green-jobs labor force. Finally, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has taken direct steps to introduce curricula related to clean and renewable energy into India’s industrial training institutes. All told, each of these initiatives will raise the importance of green industries in the nation’s consciousness, and turn these goals into a shared national priority.

In many ways, India’s commitment to the climate agreement puts even the United States’ response to shame. It’s no secret that the Republican-led U.S. Congress has been openly scornful of President Barack Obama’s leadership on this front, and appears committed to doubling-down on U.S. oil industry subsidies – valued at more than $5.3 trillion per year – rather than investing in a clean-energy future.

Although it’s tempting to believe that, through American exceptionalism, the U.S. can lead the world by positive example, India appears to be emerging as one of the leading voices in the clean-energy revolution. The rest of the world will be watching to see how well it lives up to its lofty ambitions – and who knows? Maybe even the United States can learn a thing or two from our Eastern neighbors along the way.

Image credit: Hard Life with a big smile… via photopin (license)

Anum Yoon is a writer who is passionate about personal finance and sustainability. She often looks for ways she can incorporate money management with environmental awareness. You can read her updates on Follow Anum Yoon @anumyoon

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